I Want My Hat Back by Jon Klassen
Candlewick Press, 2011
Hardcover, 40 pages.
The New York Times Best Illustrated Children’s Book of 2011.
The bear’s hat is gone, and he wants it back. Patiently and politely, he asks the animals he comes across, one by one, whether they have seen it. Each animal says no, some more elaborately than others. But just as the bear begins to despond, a deer comes by and asks a simple question that sparks the bear’s memory and renews his search with a vengeance. Told completely in dialogue, this delicious take on the classic repetitive tale plays out in sly illustrations laced with visual humor– and winks at the reader with a wry irreverence that will have kids of all ages thrilled to be in on the joke. ~publisher’s comments.
Possible lessons learned in I Want My Hat Back? No matter how polite a bear you are, the smaller animals will be intimidated. Believing that someone is telling you the truth is not a bad trait, but then, neither is using your powers of observation. Lying to a bear is not a good idea. Bears really love their hats. Stealing is bad.
The repetition and progression of the story is charming. A bear wants his hat back, he asks around. It is all simple and straight-forward. The text is big, the dialog exchanging colors with no bother for exclamation points or “the bear said,” “the fox said;” the majority of the book holds the text, uncomplicated, on white. Notably, the Reader doesn’t know what Bear’s hat looks like, but there is an interaction that reads “guilty!,” which plays beautifully into the final page.
The story and illustrations (digital & Chinese ink) are so quiet. The color palette isn’t blinding, the images unmoving, taking expression from the text. The images/text have a lovely balance in that while one reads tension (potential tragedy), the other creates comedy. The subtle humor and intensity builds into an enthusiastic sprint—until it stops and settles back into the tremulous moment and a cathartic splinter of laughter.
Travis Jonkers at “100 Scope Notes” writes, “Jon Klassen’s hilarious, deadpan picture book will be divisive. Not everyone will enjoy it. But those that do like it are gonna really like it.” I agree. Not everyone will appreciate I Want My Hat Back and its darkly comic ending, or maybe the fairly stark illustrations are not their cup of tea, but me and mine found it to be absolutely brilliant. Give Jon Klassen’s I Want My Hat Back a go, and be prepared to want to take it home.
Jon Klassen’s “Burst of Beaden” blog-site.